I am walking fast down a dark sidewalk in my neighborhood, talking on the phone with my siblings in our weekly group chat, when I trip. I go down hard, scraping a hand, knee, bending back little fingers, and finally smacking into the concrete chest-first. I feel gob-smacked, the wind is knocked out of me like the hand of God has slapped me hard. I roll over on my back and grab my phone, thankfully encased in an otter box, unbroken. My siblings are continuing to chat, unaware that I am flat on the ground.
“I fell,” I croak into the phone, panting.
“Sorry, I fell.” I want to cry like a baby. “Bawaa! Poor me! I fell!”
Instead, I act cool. “I fell. What did I miss? What are you guys talking about?” I sit up, feel my fingers, my knee, my arm. I take a deep breath. My chest hurts, but I can move. I stand up and continue my walk, listening, talking, planning Dad’s move.
An hour later, I am back at home. I tell my daughter and husband I took a spill, then take a bath with epsom salts. When I read to my daughter I ask her not to lean on my chest as we cuddle. I am sore. It hurts to sit up.
Beware of Falls
Hanging out with my Dad this time around, I have been paranoid about having him fall. I have never before noticed how uneven the ground is everywhere. His big feet graze the sidewalk with a sliding shuffle when he picks them up to take a step. He walks perilously close to curbs. Sidewalks are minefields, planter boxes, planted in the middle like IEDs, ready to knock him to kingdom come. The alley way outside our art class is so uneven it is like a stream bed we pick our way through. I walk beside him, my arm out around his back, or offered in front like a cane, in a way I hope does not seem obtrusive. Sometimes my solicitous behavior annoys him. “I’m fine,” he says, waving my arm away.
He has a few close calls. Once, he walks too fast down his slanting front walk way and pitches sideways into a bush. He doesn’t go all the way down, but it scares me. Another time, he insists on helping me carry a too big box down his stairs and plops backwards onto his bottom, banging his head into a wall so hard he dents the dry wall. A visit to the emergency room shows no harm done. I wish he would use a cane or a walker, then I could relax. But he’s not interested in my relaxation. He’s interested in his own independence. And mostly, he’s ok.
I, on the other hand, have fallen three times in the past few weeks. Once, jogging along the Coast Walk dirt path on the way to the Cove, I tried to pass a couple and slid sideways down the dirt, scraping my leg so much the black scab took two weeks to clear up. A few days later, looking at the tide pools as the sun set, I slipped off a rock and sat down hard, scraping my arm. And now this, falling in the middle of an ordinary sidewalk. The world feels topsy turvy and hazardous.
When I wake up the morning after the fall, I feel achy.
“You should go get an X-ray,” my sister in law says. “There’s important stuff under your ribs.”
Perhaps she’s right. I decide to wait a few days to see if it feels better, not wanting to pay the deductible. Finally, 5 days later, my chest aching more, I go to Urgent Care.
“Do you want an Xray?” the technician asks.
“Do I WANT one?” I ask. “Aren’t you supposed to tell me that? Do I NEED one?”
“It won’t make a difference in your treatment,” she says. “It’ll be the same whether you’ve cracked a rib or not.”
Treatment, it turns out, is exactly what I’ve been doing. Except that I can’t pick up anything heavy for 2 weeks. The rest of the day I sit with my aching chest, and try to allow myself to feel the vulnerability of that ache — the ache of loss; the very cage protecting my heart cracked open, my childish heart exposed; my hold on the solid earth shaky. In the evening, cold and damp, I go for another long walk — wearing a headlamp this time, so I can see. I walk into the ache, feeling my feet on the earth, breathing into my sadness. My chest loosens up in the open air, and the ache lessens. I breathe deeply, the ache still there, but lighter, cleansed. Maybe I did break a rib. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe it is just my heart that has been aching, sitting in a cracked cage in the middle of my chest, in a body that has been upended over and over again.